While heading out on my assignments this past Saturday, my weekend schedule was subject to an unexpected turn of events.
FURRY HITCHHIKER "GUNNER".
Traveling north on Highway 11, just past South River, I noticed a car in the passing lane slow as it passed what I assumed was a deer. On my second take, I realized the four-legged hitchhiker slowly making its way up the median was in fact a dog and I immediately pulled onto the shoulder.
Seeing there were no cars coming, I called him over, gave him a quick pat down to check for injuries, and seeing he was friendly, lifted him into the back of my SUV, where he sat safe and sound touring Almaguin as I finished my assignments for the day.
I hope those I took photos of can excuse my befuddled efforts. Not knowing if my new passenger would eat the seats of my truck while I was making my rounds had me in a bit of a panic. I was relieved when my furry friend, who I was calling Gunner, finally fell asleep en route to my last assignment in Kearney.
Once home, I contacted the local rescues and tossed Gunner’s collar outside. It had clearly not been off of his body in quite some time and the stench of it was vomit inducing.
The old boy loved being massaged in a warm bath and never objected as I dried and brushed his coat until I had filled an entire grocery bag with dead hair. All the while Gunner’s tail never stopped wagging and he doled out kisses like it was his job.
The more time I spent with him, taking him for walks and rubbing his head while we watched TV, I started to think maybe he was meant to be mine.
By Sunday, reality set in. I finally decided I was in over my head and tearfully delivered Gunner to the Bracebridge Branch of the OSPCA. I waited in line behind a duo of young girls dropping off a stray dog, breed unknown, and a man handing over a beagle who had been wandering Town Line.
Then it was my turn.
I knew Gunner was old and clearly had some vision loss and joint issues. But I was surprised to hear the woman on the other side of the counter say there would be a cruelty investigation because of his condition.
“Someone will have to answer for that,” she said, adding that he had likely never been bathed or brushed or even brought indoors before he crossed paths with me.
As I got into my truck, the guilt of leaving him hit me and I spent the drive home wiping tears and reminding myself that he isn’t my dog and I’m not a bad person because I can’t do more to help. I am simply ill equipped. Despite rational thought, I felt like I had failed him.
It’s amazing to me the bond that can be built between human and dog in such a short span of time, and even more amazing to me when others are seemingly immune to it.
I will admit the idea of a dog living its entire lifetime outdoors is foreign to me, so I’m not in a position to debate the issue. Although in my heart-of-hearts I have to question the quality of such an existence, especially for a species that is innately social.
Regardless of his former situation, no dog should have its fate left in the hands of chance as it wanders through the wilderness and finds itself on the edge of a busy highway destined to become road kill. I have to wonder how many cars passed this poor boy trekking through the snow before I came along.
There is a quote from Mahatma Ghandi that has stayed with me for years – “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
I believe this to be true.
The way we as a society treat our least capable members – those who struggle to communicate, that can’t always fend for themselves, and rely on the compassion of others to survive – whether they be human or otherwise, is a clear indicator of our triumphs and failures as a civilization.
As poor Gunner sits waiting in his holding cell for the mandatory five-day stray dog reprieve, I hope someone out there is looking for him. And if going home isn’t meant to be, I just hope he finds a warm lap and a gentle hand worthy of such a loving heart.